Summer 1982

One more time.  Summer 1982. The weather in Pittsburgh is unbearably hot.  Two weeks of high temperatures and high humidity.  Nights not much better than the days.  Nights too hot for sleeping, days sapping what’s left of the strength the sleepless nights don’t replenish.  You get sopping wet climbing in or out of a car.  Especially if your car’s little and not air-conditioned, like my mother’s Chevette.  Nobody remembers the last time they felt a cool breeze, nobody remembers pulling on clothes and not sweating through them in five minutes.  “Unbearable” is my mother’s word.  She uses it often but never lightly.  In her language it means the heat is something you can’t escape.  The sticky heat’s a burden you wake up to every morning and carry till you’re too exhausted to toss and turn anymore in your wet sheets.  Unbearable doesn’t mean a weight that gets things over with, that crushes you one and for all, but a burden that exerts relentless pressure.  Whether you’re lifting a bag of groceries from a shopping cart into the furnace your car becomes after sitting closed for twenty minutes in the Giant Eagle parking lot, or celebrating the birth of a new baby in the family, the heat is there.  A burden touching, flawing everything.  Unbearable is not that which can’t be borne, but what must be endured forever.

Of course the July dog days can’t last forever.  Sooner or later they’ll end.  Abruptly.  Swept away by one of those violent lightning-and-thunder storms peculiar to Pittsburgh summers.  The kind signaled by a sudden disappearance of air, air sucked away so quickly you feel you’re falling.  Then nothing.  A vast emptiness rubbing your skin.  The air’s gone.  You’re in a vacuum, a calm, still, vacated space waiting for the storm to rush in.  You know the weather must turn, but part of the discomfort of being in the grip of a heat wave or any grave trouble is the fear that maybe it won’t end.  Maybe things will stay as miserable as they are.

-from Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

storm clouds over homestead smokestacks


History podcasts, and then some

Today I went in search of some podcasts to listen to while working on organizing my recipes. First I tried some British biographies from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I listened to the mp3s for Vita Sackville-West and the legendary Sweeney Todd. While the facts in these biographies are interesting, it seems that the narrators are just reading them from a biographical dictionary; the sentences just sound like they were written for the page, though the readers are both skilled at making the texts pleasant to listen to. I thought these podcasts lacked the sort of wandering intrigue that makes many others catch my attention. Perhaps it’s just the more popular interview format that makes other podcasts more interesting for me. I also think I have a preference for historical trivia to be revealed in an order determined by something other than chronology. Nevertheless, as an auditory form of access to a reference work, the Oxford DNB podcasts are easy to peruse, and they offer insights into the lives of some people I would never learn about otherwise.

Next I discovered the archives of Talking History, a program by the Organization of American Historians. The show is now defunct, but you can still download old episodes. I listened to one about the so-called “Children’s Blizzard of 1888“. This podcast takes the form of an interview, followed by a description of digital collections you can access online that offer photographs and a chronology of blizzards in the US. Then, a rather verbose scholar opines on the fate of cities vs. the destructive tendencies of Mother Nature. I liked the format of this podcast a lot better. The potpourri was entertaining, and hearing an author interviewed about a book always leaves you the option of going out and reading the book if you want to discover more. Some other interesting topics covered in this podcast series include the social and political history of marriage, a history of women’s basketball, and what’s behind Daylight Savings Time. And those are all just from 2006!

I don’t have iTunes on any of my computers that has the internet, so I sort of delayed getting into the whole podcast thing. It took me awhile to realize no iPod was required; that “podcast” didn’t mean anything more than “mp3 file” in many cases. I know the History Channel, the Library of Congress, the BBC, NPR, and many other major news outlets offer lots of podcasts, but I thought it might be nice to mention some from perhaps lesser-traveled areas of the web. Enjoy…

The Memory Palace – short podcasts on some of the more unusual or under-reported aspects of history, presented (i think) rather poetically.
BackStory with the American History Guys – lots of great topics, very chatty format. In keeping with the blizzard theme, I listened to their episode on the history of climate control. What can I say? I am over summer.
Environmental History podcast – about human societies and the environment in the past.
12 Byzantine Rulers and Norman Centuries – two podcast series by author and speaker Lars Brownworth, who has been featured in the New York Times (just sayin).
Journal of American History podcast – interviews with scholars about their work. Only on its 7th episode, but seems promising.

…and for more on other topics, try:
Science Podcasters – a list of high-quality podcasts on various science topics, e.g. “Brain Science Podcast”, “The Nursing Show”, and “This Week in Parasitism” (not kidding).
Astronomy Cast
Library of Congress Guide to Poetry and Literature Webcasts

My 2009 in (mostly) fiction

Middlemarch by George EliotA World Too Near by Kay KenyonChasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Starship Troopers by Robert HeinleinSpin by Robert Charles WilsonThe Inferior by Peadar O'Guilin Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles NordhoffAccelerando by Charles StrossPreacher, no. 6 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

March – no books?!

The Music Room by Namita DevidayalSinger from the Sea by Sheri S. Tepper

The Forever War by Joe HaldemanPredator's Gold by Philip ReeveA Confederation of Valor by Tanya Huff

The City & the City by China MievilleTrading in Danger by Elizabeth MoonThe Heart of Valor by Tanya Huff

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa RampoMarque and Reprisal by Elizabeth MoonValor's Trial by Tanya Huff

The Margarets by Sheri S. TepperEngaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West

Downbelow Station by C.J. CherryhThe Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Prefect by Alastair ReynoldsThe Waitress Was New by Dominique FabreDaemon by Daniel Suarez

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

This post was made possible by LibraryThing, where I tag books I’ve read with the month and year I read them, and keep track of what I want to read in the future.  Now that I’m into the swing of it, hopefully the year in review for 2010 will be more complete.

reading Middlemarch

Middlemarch, by George Eliot, has been on my reading list for an embarrassingly long time. Maybe even since high school? I have a tendency to pass over the classics on my list in favor of guilty pleasures. I’ve been having a hard time making progress on Middlemarch just because the style bogs me down and I, um…fall asleep. Twice I’ve been on my way to return the book to the library, but I’ve found myself reading it to pass the time on the bus. And then I come across a quote that slays me somehow, and I can’t bring myself to return the book after all. I don’t know if I”ll ever finish it, but here are a few excerpts that I’ve especially liked:

“Suppose we turn from outside estimates of a man, to wonder, with keener interest, what is the report of his own consciousness about his doings or capacity; with what hindrances he is carrying out his daily labours; what fading of hopes, or what deeper fixity of self-delusion the years are marking off within him; and with what spirit he wrestles against universal pressure, which will one day be too heavy for him, and bring his heart to its final pause” (79).

“He had two selves apparently, and they must learn to accommodate each other and bear reciprocal impediments. Strange, that some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations, and even while we rave on the heights, behold the wide plains where our persistent self pauses and awaits us”(144).

“Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity”(185).

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. New York: Random House, 1994.

interesting LCSHs for December

From the Library of Congress weekly lists for December 2 and 9, 2009.

Aggressiveness in art [Not Subd Geog] [sp2009009189]

Andy Kehoe – “Kick Us When We’re Down

Androids in literature [Not Subd Geog] [sp2009009278]
Philip K. Dick’s website has a fun gallery of cover images from all the various versions of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

androids japan cover

Architecture photographers [May Subd Geog] [sp2009009076]

Kim Høltermand“Monolith”

150 Crime in music [sp2009009410]
680 Here are entered works on the depiction of crime in musical compositions. General works on the relationship between crime and music are entered under Music and crime.
550 BT Music
681 Notes under Music and crime

150 Heroines in dance [Not Subd Geog] [sp2009009518]
550 BT Dance

150 Landscapes in music [Not Subd Geog] [sp2009009236]
680 Here are entered works on the depiction of natural landscapes in musical
550 BT Music

Mood films [Not Subd Geog] [sp2008025676]
680 This heading is used as a genre/form heading for films that emphasize a mood or
atmosphere rather than a plot.
555 BT Fiction films
The record for the above heading indicates that there’s a genre of Japanese fiction film to which the term “mood film” has been applied. A friend suggested that something like Wavelength might be considered a “mood film”. However, it also seems to be a common term in the advertising field, where it refers to things like this. According to NTC’s Dictionary of Advertising, 2nd ed, a “mood commercial” is a “commercial message designed to establish a particular atmosphere.” Or perhaps a commercial that encourages you to match your fridge to your mood?

Odeon of Agrippa (Athens, Greece) [sp2009008379]
410 UF Agrippa, Odeon of (Athens, Greece)
410 UF Agrippeion (Athens, Greece)
410 UF Ōdeio tou Agrippa (Athens, Greece)
410 UF Odeion of Agrippa (Athens, Greece)
410 UF Odeum of Agrippa (Athens, Greece)
550 BT Theaters—Greece

Odeon of Agrippa
image from

The Athenian Agora Excavations website from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens is a lovely example of how archaeological data can be digitized and presented in a clear, interesting way. Also, check out the catalog card on this page. And I thought library catalog cards were messy…

I’m including this next one not because I’m a Potter fan, but because I find it bizarre and amusing that there was probably a discussion (or a lively debate?) about whether Hogwarts should be considered a place or an organization. I guess imaginary places are as worthy of accurate subject headings as real places, or, um, organizations…?
150 Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Imaginary place) CANCEL
(C) 150 Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Imaginary organization) [Not Subd Geog] [sp 00002633]
450 UF Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Imaginary place) [EARLIER FORM

150 Legislators’ pets [May Subd Geog] [sp2009009244]
550 BT Pets
Ted Kennedy and pet
In My senator and me : a dog’s eye view of Washington Senator Kennedy’s dog, Splash, follows the senator around for a day and introduces readers to the White House.

There’s also a Presidential pet museum?!